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June 8th, 2010
03:18 AM ET

The rabbi whose question ended Helen Thomas' career

From CNN Senior National Editor Dave Schechter:

Most Americans have never heard of Rabbi David Nesenoff, but they now know his work behind the camera. Nesenoff is an independent filmmaker who asked columnist Helen Thomas the question that brought an end to her decades-long career.

Nesenoff was at the White House on May 27 with a media credential, representing his website www.rabbilive.com, to cover an event marking Jewish Heritage Month. He was accompanied by his 17-year-old son Adam, who also was credentialed – representing his website www.shmoozepoint.com – and a friend of his son.

They had attended a White House news conference at which Thomas, known as the dean of the White House press corps, was one of the reporters to question President Obama. Afterwards, Nesenoff and his son asked various people at the White House – from a TV reporter to a Jewish boxer to visiting rabbis – to offer thoughts on Israel.

It was in the driveway outside the north entrance to the White House where Nesenoff saw Thomas. “Let’s meet her, let’s learn something” Nesenoff recalled telling the boys. “I didn’t remember that she had pro-Palestinian thoughts, anti-Semitic feelings,” he said.

What followed has been viewed online more than one million times on various sites, Nesenoff says.

“Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine,” Thomas told them. “Remember, these people are occupied. And it’s their land. It’s not German, it’s not Poland’s.”

That answer in and of itself might have caused a minor stir. Regular viewers of White House news conferences over the years have heard her ask questions that betrayed sympathy for the Palestinians, perhaps not surprising for a U.S.-born daughter of Christian immigrants from Lebanon. But Nesenoff followed up by asking where the Jews living in Israel should go.

“They could go home. Poland, Germany,” Thomas replied, “ . . . and America, and everywhere else.”

“I was hurt, I was shocked,” Nesenoff told me. He was less concerned about Thomas’ retirement. “There are bigger issues here,” he said, “of anti-Semitism tied into anti-Israel (sentiment).”

After Nesenoff posted the video online, Thomas apologized in a statement. “I deeply regret my comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians,” she said “They do not reflect my heart-felt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognize the need for mutual respect and tolerance. May that day come soon."

It was not enough to quiet the uproar. Nesenoff is looking for something more personal. “She owes me an apology,” he says. “She owes my son an apology.”

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Israel • Judaism • Middle East • Politics

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soundoff (1,598 Responses)
  1. HolySchegmaBatman

    Its time to start a viral campain on all these bleeding heart, eternally "persecuted" who at the drop of a dime (which they ofcourse are scattering about trying to pick up) label everything anti-semitism – “I was hurt, I was shocked,” blah blah blah – this Rabbi Turd is a class A "schmuck" – there is a very LARGE percentage of America that like her statement and find that it is factual, which it is – how would the USofA feel if the UN said hey – were taking the State of Vermont and giving it too the Amish? So the Amish can become a religeous country? – ya that would fly – So once again Isreal is on stolen land – who owned it 2000+ years ago according to the Bible is not in play – who owned it in 1948/50 IS – I have no love for Islam or Palestine – but I tell you what if someone takes 3/4 of my land and says I'm giving it to someone else – and there gonna have free reign to terrorize and demolish people houses and property and lives – BAH – Isreal is a terrorist nation and the world is getting a first hand view of just that.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:06 pm |
    • cj185358

      I think we are thinking along very similar lines.

      June 8, 2010 at 12:07 pm |
    • meshearin

      Well said!

      June 8, 2010 at 1:08 pm |
    • Howard Markowitz

      Wrong! Not factual.
      The land of Israel was conquered by the Romans and then by the Ottoman Empire. There was never a nation of Palestine. It was a province in teh Roman Empire. As the Ottoman Empire waned in power, Turk citizens bought the land and slowly sold it off to European Jews who were looking to escape persecution. After WWII, Britain held soverneighty over the land and from pressure from the UN agreed to make it the country of Israel. So in all ways 'lawfully', the land belongs to the people who purchased it and were granted soverneignty as a nation. And oh BTW, through sweat and determination, the Israelis have turned a desert into an oasis and properous land.

      June 8, 2010 at 4:17 pm |
  2. Dr. Rocky Termanini

    I used to be very neutral and more understanding of the situation between the Jews and the Palestinians...not anymore...the media has programmed our mind to sympathize with the culprit and and denounce the victim. How sad it is. Counting all the tragedies, slaughters, and innocent killings of both sides...the algebraic sum would definitely show that with all the industrial and technological advances, did not help us find a solution to the Palestinian tragedy. It's a lopsided world.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:06 pm |
    • serj

      well said

      June 8, 2010 at 8:46 pm |
  3. HF

    This was her answer before if you look around, this has always been her answer about Israel and Jews.

    She did not say anything out of her normal character, because she was stupid and dropped her guard, and was caught with her panties down in public of a sorts.

    Her firing was long over do, where is the surprise or Oh!!, There is none, so why look surprise or outraged, it's like most of us would ever notice we really never see her, but the press does, and they don't out their own any ways, or else they would all be out of a jobs,

    It is nice to see the old ugly hag get hers, it is not every polite so say this, but for such a phony and racist person like the hag to have such a important position.

    No other words need, there is no defense for racist, if you your hiding your a racist also.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:06 pm |
  4. Confused

    In the 4th paragraph, the rabbi indicates that pro-Palestinian thoughts equal anti-Semitic feelings. I've never heard before that these are the same thing. Anyone else?

    June 8, 2010 at 12:06 pm |
    • E. Saab

      I'm Jewish, and let me tell you that anyone who says or implies that pro-Pelestinian statements made by someone make that person automatically anti-Semitic, IS AN IDIOT! A two-state solution is the only answer...let's get on with it darnit. But all sides must respect each other and really want an end to the endless cycle of blood. Some arable land...some desert...some water for both states...Jerusalem as capitol of both states while simultaneouly being the ultimate international city. This is possible people! You gotta believe! MaxPax

      June 8, 2010 at 2:04 pm |
  5. Pro-freedom

    Dru, there is nothing that Helen Thomas did that was shameful. She had every right to speak her mind, and her beliefs are shared by millions of Americans. What IS a shame is that any opinions expressed against Israel are considered anti-semitic. With your logic, would someone who would say anything against David Berkowitz, the "Son of Sam" serial killer be considered anti-semitic, simply because he is a Jew? Israel is considered by many to be an illegal, tyrannical, terrorist state, guilty of the genocidal killing of Palestinians. (Sound familiar at all?) Ooh! I'd better not say that out loud! Some of the Capos will come round me up.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:05 pm |
    • Emma

      Actually, David Berkowitz was a Catholic baby adopted by Jews who reverted to Christianity in prison.

      June 9, 2010 at 8:44 am |
  6. andre

    As we should all know, a news reporter must keep his or her personal thoughts form entering the reporting equation.
    This being a media event, Ms Thomas broke the cardinal rule of journalizim, and showed her true colors and must pay the price. We should exepect nothing less from a professinal, no matter how long she has been on the job.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:04 pm |
  7. Tom K

    Get over it,the woman is 90 for crying out loud,it is time for her to go but not in shame and she owes no one an apology

    June 8, 2010 at 12:04 pm |
  8. Serge

    I think Israel has to pay a huge price for this bloody killing.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:03 pm |
    • lorne

      what price should hamas pay for it's attacks against israel?

      June 8, 2010 at 1:04 pm |
    • Ben

      wjat killing are you talking about?

      June 8, 2010 at 1:34 pm |
  9. James Evans

    Ms. Thomas has always been a foolish biggot. Just because she had a job as a columnist/journalist doesn't mean she ever had anything of value or worth to add to any subject. It's just a shame that such a foolish person with blind racist views had been allowed to hold the position she has for so long.

    What is really ashame is that some folks actually looked up to her and revered her?

    Of course, it would be nice if the media and the world in general didn't turn its back on the truths of the Israel/Palistinian conflict. Palistinians ( particularly their leadership from day 1) would not be looked upon so kindly and neither would "Any " of the surrounding Arab/Muslim neighbors. Syria has been nothing be a joke and Jordan is at the least a dissappointment with ignorant commenary from their queen

    June 8, 2010 at 12:03 pm |
  10. igor

    RE: Collier
    "It seems that opinions that are in any way supportive of Palestinian civil rights are also considered anti-Semitic. "

    This is a ridiculous comment in light of what is being discussed. Clearly her remarks are antisemitic, not because she asked the Israelis to unoccupy "Palestine" (which is an issue unto itself), but because she posited that the Jews should return to the lands where they were killed en masse during the Holocaust. The Jews didn't leave Germany because they wanted to move to Israel, they left Germany because they didn't want to die – they didn't want that every Jew living in Germany, Poland, France, Italy, Czech, etc.... should die.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:03 pm |
    • danny

      israel was formed in 1948, after the nazi regime was destroyed. since that time, jews have moving to israel, basically just for eonomic opportunity, there are no more "death camps"

      June 8, 2010 at 1:10 pm |
    • E. Saab

      Thanks Igor. And Danny (below) we know there are no more death camps. But the suggestion that we Jews return to where that happened is offensive to say the least. It's not just that the Holocaust happened in these places...we cannot forget pogrom after pogrom in these places during which thousands of Jews were killed or evicted from their homes. Most American Jews agree with me. A two-state solution is the only answer...and Jerusalem an international city (maybe home to U.N. in future?) Is not peace & prosperity for all people around the world what truly good-hearted people want for themselves AND others? MaxPax

      June 8, 2010 at 1:30 pm |
  11. Paul

    I am not sure who is the rightful heir to the middle east, Some time in history the whole area has been occupied by the greeks, romans, turks, ottoman's, mongolians, and all the local Arab sects. I think the Egyptians also have had a presence there some time in history.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:03 pm |
  12. What?!

    Why is it that in the United States, the self-named land of the free, can someone not exercise their freedom of speech rights without fear of loosing their job. Let alone fear of expressing their opinions.

    It's not as though Helen was said "they should all be wiped from the face of the earth." Nor was she organizing any anti-Jewish rallies.

    I hope that all those who agree with her being fired are the first, when their own personal freedoms are challenged, to speak up. That way I get to stand back and laugh at all of your hypocrisies.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:02 pm |
  13. meshearin

    I think its refreshing to hear someone actually speak their mind without worrying about whether they are being politically correct. My ancestors were cleared out of the Highlands of Scotland to make room for sheep. Somehow, my family and many others managed to move on and not take over London or bomb innocent sheep.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:02 pm |
  14. Even Steven

    Ok then. Now all those who believe that all Palestines should leave Palestine must also be removed from the White House Press Corps. Even Steven.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:02 pm |
  15. laurahdet

    Her heritage is Lebanese what do you expect. She knows the true history of the land and the invading occupiers.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:01 pm |
  16. Kathie

    Whatever happened to free speech in the United States? Rioting skinheads seem to have more right to free speech
    then this journalist does.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:01 pm |
  17. joed49

    I couldn't agree more with Helen. I'm in no way a racist but I'm tired of seeing the jews cry anit semitism when ever someone doesn't agree with their views.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:01 pm |
  18. Chris

    What she said had facts and opinions. Since when are we not allowed to express our opinions in this country? A UN resolution in 1947 re-established Israel and it did effectively kick the palestinians out. She is right they are occupied. Should the Jewish people just give it up and leave....maybe. However, what is important about this whole thing is a woman gave her opinion and it is not the popular opinion and she is being crucified. That is the real problem. Expressing opinions in a non-violent way should be welcomed. If we continue on this road we won't be far from the time where if you say the wrong thing you can lose your job, family, and friends. Reminds me of stories I heard about Nazi Germany. This country is supposed to be about FREEDOM. She has the freedom and right to express her opinion she should not be punished if it is an unpopular opinion.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:01 pm |
    • Ben

      Nobody kicked anybody out, the arabs living in the newly formed country of Israel left on their own accord.

      June 8, 2010 at 1:31 pm |
  19. mfaphoto

    Interesting that the Jews, who were erroneously believed to have controlled everything by the Nazi's, were powerless to prevent their murder. Now, you are repeating the same lies that the Nazi's made people believe. Because of these kinds of beliefs, held by far too many people, the Jewish people were granted a place where they could live and prosper by the United Nations after World War II.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:01 pm |
    • Selfish Gene

      And immediately wanted more. More land. More foreign aid. More weapons.

      June 8, 2010 at 12:28 pm |
    • Frank M

      You really need to read more detailed history. Specificly about "Money Changers".

      June 8, 2010 at 12:32 pm |
      • david

        And the powers of the Church...

        June 8, 2010 at 12:47 pm |
  20. linda wright

    she was set up. given her career what did they think she would say and what a question after everything that has just happened. we need people like her so we hear both sides not just the one.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:00 pm |
    • E. Saab

      SeT up? She didn't have to provide an answer in front of a camera. She spoke her mind...and now the consequences. Tough toenails.

      June 8, 2010 at 1:19 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.